Air fryers are easy to use. This is one of their many attractions. However there are still a few tips and hacks that will help you to get the best results from your new toy.
1. Dry Crumb or Dust, Not Wet Batter
A sweet tiger prawn cloaked in a crispy cloud of airy tempura batter is a lovely thing. But before that batter becomes light and crunchy, it is wet and that is not good news for air frying.
An air fryer is a super-powered convection oven. It heats to very high temperatures and that heat is then moved around the uncooked food by a high speed fan. This is how a hot chip gets crunchy and golden without swimming around in a vat of hot oil.
It is this fan action that causes problems if you are using batter.
The wind created by the fan can blow the batter from the food. This results in a couple of problems:
- The food has nothing to protect it from the intense heat produced by the cooking function of the air fryer. This means that food may get burnt, or at least dry out.
- The batter is blown around the cooking compartment whilst air frying and gets cooked onto any surface that it comes into contact with. It can make your appliance a devil to clean.
The solution to these issues is to use a dry coating on your food.
Many foods are just as appealing with a simple dusting of seasoned flour – regular wheat flour or cornflour are great choices. Or you can give them a tempting layer of delicious breadcrumbs which turn golden when fried.
For a more detailed look at the pluses of dusting and crumbing, some flavours combination tips and advice on how to crumb like a pro, you can read more here.
2. Don’t Crowd the Basket
The fan in the air fryer blasts hot air around the food and this cooks it. This means that you have to have space around each individual piece of food for the air to circulate and heat its exposed surfaces.
If you have a single layer of ham and cheese croquettes laid out carefully for air frying so that they aren’t touching, when you cook them, they will crisp up and brown on all sides.
However, if you load the basket or tray with a pile of croquettes, they will cook unevenly and be golden on the edges that were heated by the fan and pale and raw on the bits that were touching other croquettes. They may even become fused into a half-cooked lump. Not an ideal result.
The best way to achieve not overfilling the basket is to commit to cooking in batches. For a perfect bowl of crunchy air fried croquettes, you may need to make 2 or 3 lots of carefully spaced ham and cheese delicacies. It will take more time than simply tossing them in the basket and turning on the appliance, but the results will be worth it.
3. Use Oil – Just a Little Bit
There have been a lot of articles and recipes written that claim that cooking with an air fryer produces fried food without the use of oil. This is possible, but may not give you the results you really want.
The fact of the matter is that you need some kind of fat to produce crisp, golden results. If you don’t accept this, you are going to be eating a lot of pale, anemic looking hot chips. That’s your choice of course, but you only need to add a tiny bit of oil for gloriously appealing chips.
Some foods come with their own fat. A chicken thigh with its skin left on will crisp up nicely in the air fryer as there is a lovely layer of delicious fat under that naughty skin. However, if you remove the skin from your chicken, you will need to brush the flesh with a smidge of oil if you want it to fry nicely.
And this is the key. You only need a tiny bit of oil to produce that crispy, tanned surface that we find so irresistible in fried foods. That’s your true health benefit – reduced fat rather than no fat.
You can toss potatoes in a few tablespoons of oil or brush a thin layer onto a pork chop. Personally, I’m a fan of giving my croquettes and meatballs a quick squirt from a spray can of oil before I pop them on to fry.
Avoid Regular Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Regular extra virgin olive oil can give a great flavour boost to many foods, but it is a no-no for air frying.
This is because air fryers cook food at an extremely high heat and regular EVOO has a low smoke point compared to many other cooking oils. If you don’t want your kitchen filled with acrid smelling (and tasting) smoke, go for an oil with a higher smoke point.
Oils which have a high smoke point and so are good for air frying include avocado oil, peanut oil and sesame oil. However, some of these have quite strong flavours (like sesame oil) which you might not want permeating your food. Because of this, I recommend going for more neutral tasting oils like canola, sunflower and good old vegetable oil. If you’d like a comprehensive list of cooking oil smoke points, you can read more here.
NB: I suggested that you avoid regular EVOO, but this doesn’t mean that all olive oils smoke at low temperatures. Extra light olive oil is the exception to the rule.
And Spray Your Basket!
It might not help with your cooking, but it will certainly help with your tidying up if you spray the basket or tray of your appliance with a little oil before you get air frying. That squirt of oil will help to prevent food from sticking and making cleaning far easier.
Believe me, scrubbing fragments of crisped breadcrumbs from between the wires of an air fryer basket is not a great way to spend an evening!
Your new air fryer is a small multi-function cooking appliance.
Yes, you can fry in it with a minimum of oil, but you can also use it to bake things, roast things, boil, steam, slow cook and dehydrate things. You can do almost any style of cooking in an air fryer, depending on the model that you buy.
But it is its own compact shape. So if you want to make a pizza in it, you may need to buy a small pizza pan that fits into your device as you won’t be able to use the great big pizza stone that you usually put in your regular oven.
Similarly, you might want to find cake pans, cooking racks with skewers and specially designed parchment liners that fit into your particular appliance. It all depends on what you want to make in your new machine.
And if you like to buy your oil in bulk (as I do) a spray bottle for spritzing your lamb cutlet before you drop it in the frying basket may be a good idea. Otherwise, you can just buy the spray cans of oil as you need them.
The market for air fryer accessories has exploded recently. Check out this link for multi-brand compatible accessory sets that include pizza pans, silicone mats, steaming racks, meat stands, cake barrels, cookbooks etc.
For more ideas and advice on air fryer accessories, you can read our post here.
5. Watch for Overcooking
It may seem obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to overcook things when air frying.
The combination of intense heat and a strong fan means that food may cook far faster than you expect. Certainly until you get used to your new appliance. Burning thin items like individual potato chips is a real possibility whilst delicate foods like fish can dry out very quickly if you don’t keep and eye on them
So do. Keep an eye on them.
Don’t be scared to open the drawer of your air fryer and check how things are going before the cooking time is up. Once you are familiar with how powerful it is, you will be able to ease off and let experience guide how long you leave particular dishes to cook for.
My top tip is if you find that your model fries far quicker (or slower) than the recipes you are following suggests, make notes when you cook so that you can make the necessary adjustments straight away the next time you cook. I just write a few notes to myself at the bottom of the recipe.
Obviously, if you make the same thing regularly, then cooking quirks and timings will become second nature. However, there’s nothing more annoying than knowing that you prepared something months ago, forgot to leave yourself some tips and so have to approach it as if you are cooking it for the first time.